It has been proven to be a dangerous game to write off Tiger Woods, but a 16th major title looked beyond even his powers of recovery in the 119th US Open at Pebble Beach.
At the site of his record-breaking 15-shot triumph in 2000, Woods had insisted he was “still in the ball game” as he started the third round nine shots off the lead held by fellow American Gary Woodland.
But the 43-year-old could only manage a 71 on Saturday to remain level par as the final pairing of Woodland and 2013 champion Justin Rose got their rounds under way on the Monterey Peninsula.
Woods needed a fast start but got the opposite with a bogey on the first after pulling his tee shot into the rough and being forced to lay up, while a good birdie chance on the second went begging.
Woods dropped another shot on the third after finding such an awkward lie in a greenside bunker that he deliberately played away from the hole and, although he birdied the next two holes, he missed out on the hat-trick after three-putting the par-five sixth from short of the green.
Another three-putt on the next cost Woods a third bogey of the day on the easiest stretch of holes on the course and, although he overcame two more bogeys on the back nine with three birdies, a level-par round was not what he needed.
England’s Danny Willett had set the early clubhouse target, the former Masters champion carding six birdies and two bogeys in a round of 67, his first sub-par round in 16 attempts at the US Open.
“We played good, a lot of good golf shots in there and one or two loose ones,” Willett said. “We started quickly which you have to do around this course, anyone who has shot a good score has been two, three or four under early doors and then held on around the turn before two par fives near the end.
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“The course is in great condition and does not showcase that you have to be long or short, you just have to play good golf.
“The last few years it’s been a bombers’ paradise so this course evens out the field in that way. It does not favour any one type of player, so at the end of the week you are going to get the best player winning, as it should be.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position, regardless of what the leaders do, to have good finish tomorrow.”
Rory McIlroy’s bid for a second US Open title got off to a poor start with a bogey on the first to fall five off the pace, but defending champion Brooks Koepka was lurking ominously on five under after picking up a birdie on the par-five sixth.